What Is Pine Needle Basketry?

Pine needle basketry is a tradition that has been passed on to us from the Native Americans. Here's a little bit about the art.

One of the oldest crafts known, pine needle basketry dates back over 9,000 years. This was even before pottery, which began by lining twig baskets with clay. One of the first tribes to make these baskets was the Seminole Indians. They used them for carrying water, sifting seeds and for feeding baskets. During the Civil War times, women also made hats out of pine needles that were sown together with threads spun at home.

These baskets are created using a coiling technique. A bundle of pine needles makes the core of these coils and is sewn in place with various kinds of fibers. Surprisingly, pine needle crafts require no special tools, and the materials are either free or very inexpensive.

Pine needle baskets made with this coiling technique can be all different kinds of shapes and forms, such as bowls, trays, animal shapes, lidded jars and even abstract sculptures. One can use needles from all kinds of species of pine trees to form the bundle or core. Among the most popular ones used are Jeffery Pine, Monterey Pine, Long Needle Pine, Bull Pine, Gray Pine and Ponderosa Pine. Important features of the needles chosen are flexibility and length. Once the needles are gathered from the top layer of the newly fallen needles on the ground, they are washed, cured and stored until ready for use.



If gathering your own materials, the best time to gather needles is in the fall. Pick newly fallen needles or brown needles from a branch. Green needles should be avoided before drying because they will dry and shrink and cause a loose basket. Once needles have been gathered, they should be washed with warm soapy water and dried in a warm, shady spot for several weeks. There should be air circulation allowed around them while drying. Never dry them in the sun, for the color will fade away, but rather in the shade, which helps them retain their color. Once dry, they can be dyed with a common fabric dye, if desired. Then align the ends and tie them up with a rubber band and store them in a small box.

When you are ready to use the needles, soak them in hot water for a few minutes and then wrap them in a paper towel and let them sit overnight. This will help them get evenly moistened. To avoid mildew, use them within a day or two of soaking in hot water. However, the needles that will be used in the body of the basket do not need to be soaked. As a rule of thumb, you should add no more water than necessary to keep the needles flexible enough to do the stitching. If too much water is used, the basket could be loose after it dries.

You can start work on your basket using an overhand knot, an oval start, or a figure eight start. Each type is a bundle of pin needles that is sewn together on a row. As you progress to maintain a uniform size bundle, needles are added.

Your pine needle basket will be fragrant and last for years, depending on use and care for the basket. It is best to finish it with shellac or beeswax to add a protective coating.

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